Many visitors to Europe focus on the most popular capitals, such as Paris, London and Rome. There are beautiful cities and well worth visiting. However, Europe also contains many other gems that are often overlooked. The next time you visit Europe, consider including one or more of these amazing destinations.
The capital of Iceland is not easy to spell or pronounce, but it’s one of those off the beaten track destinations that many visitors to Europe miss. One reason for this is its location. Reykjavik has the distinction of being the world’s most northernmost capital. Unlike many other cities in Europe, you can’t spontaneously decide to take a train ride there. You have to set out for Iceland. Leading attractions in and near Reykjavik include:
- A prime neighborhood for hotels, restaurants, cafes and shopping. This is a centrally located area that’s a good introduction to modern Iceland. It’s close to attractions such as the Hallgrimskirkja church and the Solfa sculpture.
- Videy Island. An island you can reach by ferry with some of the best views in Iceland. It’s a place where you can experience some traditional Icelandic culture as well as newer additions such as the Imagine Peace Tower.
- The Viking Village. Iceland, along with neighboring Scandinavian countries, is famous for being a land where Vikings settled. Here you can enjoy Viking style food and entertainment such as music and re-enactments of historical events.
- Reykjadalur Hot Springs. One of the many natural wonders of Iceland. This is a beautiful spot with hot springs where you can bathe and swim. It’s only about an hour from Reykjavik.
Dublin is hardly an unknown or obscure European capital. However, it is a city that’s often overlooked by people doing traditional tours of the major capitals. However, Dublin and surrounding areas offer some of the world’s most beautiful scenery as well as a culture that has an incredible amount of influence through the ages. Aside from flying directly into Dublin, the most popular way to get there is via train and ferry from London.
- Trinity College. Aside from being a majestic example of Irish architecture, this college is home to the Book of Kells, a medieval manuscript that features beautiful Celtic art. You can take a tour of the college and see the original manuscript.
- Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. One of the city’s oldest and most iconic buildings, this church is over 800 years old. You can take a tour of the church and gardens as well as attend services.
- Drimnagh Castle. A genuine medieval castle, complete with a moat. This amazingly well preserved castle has been featured in many TV shows and movies.
- Kilmainham Gaol. A 19th century jail with a morbid but fascinating history. Daily tours are available.
- National Botanical Gardens. A free and relaxing destination for anyone interested in plants and flowers. There are also regularly scheduled events such as lectures and workshops.
Romania has been gradually getting more popular as a tourist destination in recent years. Bucharest is one of Eastern Europe’s most beautiful and distinctive destinations. One nice thing about Bucharest is that it’s one of the most reasonable European capitals. Here are just a few highlights.
- Romanian Athenaeum. One of the city’s major landmarks. You can still hear concerts in this 19th century building as well as take guided tours.
- Old Town. A fun place to walk around cobbled streets and experience both old and new Romanian culture. You’ll find lots of restaurants, bars and shops here, along with old churches and historic homes. You can take a guided walking tour or explore the area on your own.
- Cercul Militar. A historic building that’s still very active with political events and meetings. There’s also a popular restaurant inside.
- Herastrau Park. A place to enjoy nature right in the middle of the city. There are paths for walking and biking as well as boat rides. There’s also a museum and several restaurants in the park.
Like Iceland, Finland is another destination that’s so far north that it’s easy to skip on a European trip. In fact, the capital city of Helsinki is only a few hours away from the North Pole. Helsinki, however, is definitely worth the trip. Compared to larger capital cities, Helsinki is fairly low key, without the big brand stores and any world famous tourist attractions. This, however, is part of its charm. If you’re visiting Sweden, you can take a scenic ferry ride over the Baltic Sea from Stockholm to Helsinki.
- A park surrounded by water on three sides. You can walk here from the center of the city or take a tram. There are many events and festivals held here in the spring and summer. There’s a carousel, a small beach, bike paths and even a dome for stargazing.
- Hakaniemi Market. A food and flea market where you can find fresh fish, produce, cheeses and local delicacies such as reindeer burgers. There are also housewares, clothing, jewelry and gifts. This is only one of eight market squares scattered around Helsinki.
- Fortress of Suomenlinna. You need to take a ferry to this island fortress that’s right on the Russian border. There’s a museum, church and marketplace as well as guided tours of this 18th century structure, which is a World Heritage Site.
Lisbon is an attractive destination for bargain hunters who seek a warm climate with great beaches. It’s a picturesque city known for its dramatic hilltop views, friendly people and relaxed way of life. Portugal is no longer the world power that it was 500 years ago, but Lisbon retains a great deal of Old World charm while also being a modern and cosmopolitan city.
- Tram Rides. Regardless of how you plan to get around Lisbon, you should take at least one tram ride to see the city the way locals do. Tram 28 is especially good for seeing many notable attractions and neighborhoods. Trams are also a good way to climb some of Lisbon’s extremely steep hills.
- Oceanario. An aquarium that was featured at the World’s Fair. Large tanks provide great views of all kinds of fascinating sea creatures as well as unique exhibits such as Forests Underwater.
- Miradouro da Senhora do Monte. One of the best places to get spectacular views of the city. You can take a strenuous walk up the stairs or take a bus.
- Chiado. A trendy shopping area in Lisbon that also features regular light shows at night. One of the premier areas for dining, shopping and nightlife.